Heartbreakingly, Hastings and St Leonards’ art community last week lost one of its favourite and most inspiring lights, Danny Pockets, to cancer.

By Andy Fyfe 

A driving force of East London’s fringe art scene during the ’90s and early 2000s, Pockets (Danny Cuming to his mum) spent his youth in and around Hastings. He and his young family returned to St Leonards 11 years ago, with many of his contemporaries following him to the south coast and helping re-energise the much-feted art community now thriving in the town.

Born in Tenterden, he grew up in an artist commune near Ashford. His father, Fred Cuming, is a Royal Academician and was once art tutor to Ian Dury. As a teenager Pockets gravitated to Folkestone and eventually Hastings, roaming the Romney Marshes making bivouacs to shelter from rain as he drew in notebooks. Inevitably, he headed to London after leaving college.

The Crypt, from the Houses of the Holy series by Danny Pockets
PICTURE: Alexander Brattell

Whether his medium was painting, film, installation, sound or projection, his art was mostly about transition, often across the dividing line between nature and humankind. Painting on canvas or found materials – old blankets, wooden pallets, broken doors – making short films, photography or larger 3D installations, it all tied into nature and man-made environments, how one changed the other: corner shop bags caught in trees (Bermuda Blue), a fascination with the bulldozers that sculpt and shape the South Coast’s shingle beaches (BLLDZR: And Other Drifts) or a long-held love of calligraphy, slogans and shop signage, sparked in part by his first art hero, Jack Kirby of Marvel comics.

Sometimes those links took a deeper, if accidental, twist, the sort that happens to people operating on the edges. Like in 2010 when Pockets was invited to be the inaugural exhibitor in the Circle Gallery of the then-new Sussex Coast College on Hastings’ Station Plaza. Between being commissioned and actually installing his re-creation of the beach beneath Hastings Pier, filled with detritus including ancient TVs blinking off and on with short films, the crumbling structure was engulfed in fire. It turned out he would also be the only artist ever to occupy the space: soon after his installation was dismantled the gallery was occupied by the Subway franchise which still operates today. The irony both saddened and tickled him.

His other great art love was music. Extreme music. As co-founder of The Sunday Sonics, Fat Tuesday’s avant garde fringe, he curated and sometimes performed the weird and unpredictable clash of art and music that the event became synonymous with. To Pockets, The Sunday Sonics’ experimentation was simply a natural extension of his own first musical love, punk, particularly the anarchic collectivism of Crass, which grew into a never-quite ironic appreciation of its more bratty sibling Oi. His musical clover, however, ran far deeper than that suggests, a carefully tended record collection stretching from Flatt & Scruggs’ early bluegrass through Silver Apples’ pioneering cosmic electronica to Wire’s post-punk and well beyond.

Battling through his treatment for pancreatic cancer, Pockets worked right up until his death. His latest exhibition – Houses Of The Holy, a collection of paintings depicting legendary lost and threatened music venues, including the Marquee, Astoria, the 100 Club and the Lyceum, opened this week at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust.

Danny Pockets was one of those people who never asked, “Am I allowed to do this?” He would much rather dare people to resist him. Artist, musician, mentor, teacher, husband, father, son, brother and irreplaceable friend, he is survived by his wife Sarah, children Sol, Violet and Ivan, parents Fred and Audrey, and sister Rachel. But Danny touched, inspired, influenced and affected so many more who now miss and will always adore him. Happy trails, amigo.

Danny Pockets, Houses Of The Holy, is a now posthumous exhibition at the Royal Albert Hall, London, 19-26 March. In aid of Teenage Cancer Trust. Free on 24 and 25 March, or when attending a performance at the venue on other dates. See more of Danny’s work here


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